Toronto Blue Jays: Mid-Season Report Card
Team: Toronto Blue Jays
Record & GB: 45-49 ( 11.5 GB)
Biggest Surprise of 1st Half: The Toronto Blue Jays are undoubtedly the biggest up-and-down team in the Major Leagues. For their fans, it is the most frustrating, annoying, and horrifying thing to put up with, and so sometimes it’s best to never take the little things for granted; And with the Jays it is always the little things that count. For one, it was surprising to see that the starter in the 5-spot, the great J.A. Happ, was the best tosser in the rotation – yes, even better than R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Brandon Morrow – before he got in the head with a comebacker in Tampa Bay. Other little surprises, like the tiny spark that was created when Toronto was introduced to Munenori Kawasaki definitely helped the low morale of the team at times, or knowing that after a rough first few outings, our starting rotation could finally eat up innings and last longer than 5 or 6 tops.
I’ll be honest… those surprises really aren’t that great. It’s tough to find big ones in Toronto, especially when the club struggled to get wins over the first two month span of the season. At the time, it appeared as if it was going to be the “same-old Blue Jays” for the year, until June hit and something happened: our starting pitching suddenly got extremely good and we were eating up innings like crazy, our bullpen became virutally unhittable, and the bats woke up. The Blue Jays snapped out of whatever sort of funk was ailing them, and began winning… and winning… and winning some more. It’s also important to mention that this happened while quite a few players were on the disabled list, some of which were considered to be cornerstones to the club (ie. Jose Reyes).
After playing the first 19 games in June, the team’s record was an astounding 15-4 thanks to an 11-game win streak which carried them from June 11th to the 23rd without posting a single loss. This was the third time in franchise history that the Jays have pulled off an 11-gamer, and to this date is probably the best surprise that the ball club has given it’s fans for the 2013 season. No one was expecting it and even just thinking about it still makes it seem surreal, but I think we’ll take it.
Tied into the whole big win streak, it is imparitive to remember that it was the bullpen which helped us through from start to finish. The Jays’ staff of relievers posted their best numbers ever, allowing one to become an All-Star (Brett Cecil), and another to be a part of the All-Star Game Final Vote (Steve Delabar). Heading into the first of three games in Cleveland on July 9th, the bullpen posted a league-leading 2.93ERA (which would also be the best in the history of Toronto ‘pens), an MLB-best 1.16 WHIP, and holding their opponents to a .224BA. It’s actually quite incredible to stop and realize that these numbers were all mustered up while pitching a total of 319.2 innings because of a slacking starting rotation.
So take in all of that, and surprise, surprise! A big win streak and lights-out bullpen became the show-stoppers for the Blue Jays up to this point in the season.
Biggest Disappointment of 1st Half: Unfortunately, liking the Blue Jays comes with its fair share of disappointments all around the diamond: pitching, batting, losing more often than winning, and sometimes even the coaching.
There were high expectations for this team coming into the 2013 season, and no one is really to blame for that especially since on paper, the Blue Jays were a 100-percent All-Star team going to the Big Show for the first time in 20 years, and would seemingly have absolutely no troubles getting there. The biggest thing that Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos tried to do was finally eliminate Toronto’s starting pitching woes for good – or at least as long as he possibly could. With the acquisition of the 2012 NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, along with Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, our rotation was looking hotter than ever. All of the hype, however, promptly died about two or three times through the order when no one was meeting the expectations of even a half-decent hurler; And even when any of the starters weren’t allowing any bloated earned run numbers, there was no run support to back them up.
The Blue Jays’ woes usually don’t come from any silent offense though, so the numbers that were put up over the first three months of the season…
April: 10-17, WPCT: .370
May: 13-15, WPCT: .464
June: 17-9, WPCT: .654
… were typically due to poor pitching. Even in June after the 11-game streak, the Jays went 2-5 for the rest of the month, and July hasn’t been the greatest of starts either.
The starting pitching just hasn’t been there yet at all for 2013, especially from the three newest members:
Dickey (8-10, 4.69ERA)
Buehrle (5-6, 4.89ERA)
Johnson (1-5, 4.62ERA) Josh with ONLY ONE WIN! Disappointing.
Team MVP: The Blue Jays always seem to have one player stick out above all the others, and up to this point the team MVP is a man who carried the team last year as well: Edwin Encarnacion.
Admittedly, I’ve always liked Edwin but there was a time when the Jays’ fanbase did not. Remember when he was playing third base and begrudgingly became known as “E3”? I felt bad for him during his struggles, and I think it may have been that sympathy which always gave me a soft spot for Edwin.
Determination has been the name of the game for Encarnacion. Out of nowhere he rose through the ranks, quietly batting behind Jose Bautista‘s long balls and sometimes smacking a few bombs out himself. Edwin was at least good for 20+ home runs, but that’s where his worth stood. Last year was a different story though. With Bautista injured, our club’s main driving force was seemingly lost and the fans were lost too. Edwin found himself and was carrying all the burdens himself, often winning games by hitting home runs. He hit over 40 in 2012, and is on pace to be the Blue Jays’ number one slugger this year and land a spot on the MLB heavy hitters leaderboard.
Prospect Ready To Make an Impact: Toronto’s farm team has always been one of it’s strong points. The wealth of pitching that the Jays have at the minor league level is astounding, and there have been a few household names that are going to be big once they hit the major leagues. One of the strongest and best-commanding arms belongs to 22 year old Marcus Stroman. He has been solid in every aspect of the pitching game and although he has been suspended once for performance enhancing drugs, it has not had an impact on his popularity and it appears as if he has cleaned up his act. In his five starts for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats for 2013, his ERA sits at 4.95 but that has become bloated because of his last start in which he surrendered seven runs. Without that bad outing, Stroman has a 1.86ERA with 22K/6BB in 19.1IP. He’s had numbers like these throughout his career in the minors, and there’s no doubt that he will make a strong impact when he gets called up.
Contender or Pretender: In recent years, the fate of the Blue Jays has been an odd one. There has always been potential thanks to an overabundance of power hitters, but endless struggles with the lack of good pitching. For the first time in a long time, the franchise thought that problem would be solved with the big signings of R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle but at this point in the season it has still been to no avail. The Blue Jays have not been able to get multiple win streaks going either, which has been hurting the team immensely in the standings and this is something that needs to start changing as soon as possible or else the Jays will dig themselves a hole too big to get out of. When everything is factored in, the Blue Jays really are not pretenders. we have the tools to get the job done right, but they are not always utilized to their full potential and because of that, the team has trouble being a contender. The Blue Jays are just stuck in the middle.
Overall Team Analysis: As it stands right now, the Blue Jays are finding themselves lagging behind the rest of the American League East, and that is not a good position to be in. This team is not a bad ball club, it is just the inconsistency that has the worst effect on everyone. Toronto has what it takes, but is not taking advantage. Too many unnecessary errors, mediocre pitching, and runners in scoring position being left on the basepaths has become a trend which the Jays need to break immediately.
For the rest of July, the key is in the win. After dropping 2 out of 3 against the Baltimore Orioles, the club only has to worry about playing one more division rival for the rest of the month (being the Tampa Bay Rays) and then is fortunate enough to play at home against two of the most struggle-laden teams in the Majors right now: the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros. The Blue Jays need to end off July on a high note, our starting rotation needs to go deep into games, the bullpen needs to keep being as stellar as it has been, and our offense cannot afford to have the bats go silent. Those things called win streaks wouldn’t hurt either…
If this month ends up being a bust, the blue birds won’t have too many chances left to be able to fly their way up in the standings… and ultimately can consider what should have been “THE year”, just “another year” of the same-old Blue Jays.